The Dessert Course


We had our last Fire Time of the summer last weekend—the result of our spring fundraiser, when I promised baked goods once a month to some lucky high bidder, which turned out to be several people—and our last one for a while, I suspect.

And I have to say, well played, Law of Unintended Consequences. A pretty straight-forward device to raise a little cash ended up perpetuating and sustaining friendships, who knew? It was a lot of fun.

We all pretty much acknowledged, too, that this outgrew its original mission and scope. It was much more elaborate than dropping off a loaf of bread or two-dozen cookies on someone’s porch once a month for a year (I actually did this a couple of weeks ago, though), and there were a few nods to this. You’re done, Chuck, seemed to be the consensus, but I’m not quite.

Another surprise bonus to this adventure was learning my limitations, along with a few tricks. I’m a simple guy with simple tastes, and pretty simple skills. I do a few things well in the baking arena, and that’s all about practice anyway. Stick to this stuff for security, branch out for fun and with the luxury of tossing a mistake into the trash without disappointing anyone else. Got it.

And I decided to go with cookies, so I’ve been baking quite a few lately. This is where I picked up the tricks, which mostly involve uniformity. I think these cookies are finished, no more experimentation needed. There’s nowhere else to go, no technique that will make a difference or a marketing idea that will change the world. These are really good chocolate-chip cookies. They don’t deserve a headline.

But I made a chocolate-cinnamon babka for our final event last Sunday (kind of a coffee cake), something a little more elaborate that I’ve made in the past for bake sales and other special stuff. It takes time and some skill but it’s not that different from baking a loaf of bread, except with chocolate.

And there were a couple of guests at our Fire Time (i.e., we sit around a fire pit in a friend’s backyard), retired ladies from Arizona, up visiting. They seemed slightly older than me, maybe mid-70s (hard to tell anymore; might be a little older than that), very active and engaged, lots of personality.

As I cut the babka, which looks like a loaf of burnt bread until sliced, one of these ladies tried a few pieces that had broken off, just to get a taste. The idea is to have ribbons of chocolate throughout each slice, and she noted this with a puzzled look on her face.

“Oh,” she said. “You used real baking chocolate.”

I didn’t, but I understood. I used my go-to chocolate, which is on the dark side, 63% cacao. This is the chocolate I snack on, the only chocolate I really consider chocolate, but I understood immediately. I wasn’t exposed to dark chocolate until I got married and discovered my wife’s taste for it. It’s certainly an acquired one, for those of us raised in America in a certain time. Milk chocolate was the only chocolate, even if now it reminds me of coffee that’s mostly cream.

This lady was a product of her era, then. She made a sour face at the taste, which I didn’t mind at all because it confirmed my working theory of interpersonal relationships: you want to learn the most information about someone in the shortest period of time? Ask them when they were born.

I haven’t seen this year’s Mindset List yet. I assume there’s one. For 20 years, Beloit College in Wisconsin has been cobbling together these things, lists of the history that incoming college freshman have witnessed, what they know and what they don’t. I wrote a column about it this week, in fact, although it’s a little fuzzy. I was out of ideas and I think I may have written 850 words just so I could throw in a joke I thought up. It happens, but I don’t really want to re-read it.

And I don’t really want to read the Mindset. I can figure out that stuff. I’ve been around for the past 18 years. My wife teaches college students, etc.

But I don’t relate anymore. Kids who are starting college this fall will technically be part of the same generation as my grandson, the first one born in the 21st century (or in the 2000s, anyway). They look New, to me, just out of the plastic wrap, unblemished, pristine people. They are walking Barbie dolls. I’m a little scared to even talk to them, worried I’ll break something.

On the other hand, I am a Used Human. I’ve got some miles, and the power train is way out of warranty. I dance in and out of denial, staring at my reflection, sometimes feeling OK, sometimes not. But when I spot the obvious and inevitable trouble spots, I still imagine that these are problems to be fixed, not to be accepted. When acceptance is all I’ve got left, really.

My hearing isn’t going to improve. My eyesight is godawful and getting worse. My wife and I speak partly in sign language, waving our hands to represent whatever the name of that thing is that we can’t remember at the moment but will someday, probably tomorrow.

I’m confident that I’m in much better condition, physically and psychologically, than I was at 40, no question. I doubt I’ll be able to say the same thing in 20 years, you think? There’s a trajectory here. It’s not a surprise to me.

It’s also not a surprise to see surveys showing that people over 50 are just happier, somehow. There’s no somehow for me. I get it. The kids are adults; whatever we did, whatever they will do, it’s out of my hands, pretty much. Things I did 30 years ago will catch up with me, for well or ill, and dangers lurk in the recesses of the calendar, unrelated to any choices I ever made, and still I’m in a pretty good mood.

We’ve got two glorious days of summer in store here this week, highs in the mid-70s and lots of sun, maybe our last blast. I intend to use these days, staying out of the way of the New Humans as they race by on their way. I know they’ll get there, most of them, and now I know what they’ll find, and I’m good with that. The only thing dark around here will be the chocolate, and that might explain everything.

Chuck Sigars4 Comments